Alien odyssey: British pianist plays Fort Greene jazz fest

Alien odyssey: British pianist plays Fort Greene jazz fest
Photo by Derrick Watterson

He’s got the keys to the Planet!

A Fort Greene piano player will invade Brooklyn’s biggest jazz festival next week, beaming down with his debut album as a bandleader. Aaron Whitby and his crew will play funky tunes from “Cousin From Another Planet” on the opening night of the Bric JazzFest Marathon, a three-night extravaganza of blues, soul, and jazz performances taking place all over the Bric House in Fort Greene from Oct. 24–26.

The album contain eight sunny songs filled with violins, guitar, drums, keyboard, and occasional vocals. Whitby said that he came up with his out-of-this-world songs while roaming Fort Greene with his young son.

“A lot of these tunes kind of came to me walking to school and walking home,” said Whitby. “It’s quite animated and colorful … a lot of it was inspired by my son.”

The pianist was born in London, England, but moved to New York in 1997 to pursue a career playing jazz. The title of “Cousin from Another Planet” riffs on the 1983 movie “Brother from Another Planet,” about a black alien who lands in Harlem and bonds with a human over their commonalities. As an immigrant, Whitby said that he related to the alien’s simultaneous feelings of estrangement and familiarity, as an Englishman living in Brooklyn, and playing a quintessentially American form of music.

“One the one hand, it’s that I’m an immigrant, I’m from somewhere else. And also I’m an immigrant to the music,” Whitby said. But he believes in looking at the similarities between all creatures, human and otherwise.

“We’re all cousins,” he said.

The three-day marathon of jazz, which will feature 21 acts performing on three different stages, is the conclusion of a week of jazz-related events, starting on Oct. 19 with a free outdoor concert by rhythm and blues singer Bettye LaVette. In the following days, the Fort Greene arts group will host a poetry slam and two documentaries about the history of jazz: “Blue Note Records: Beyond The Notes,” which sheds light on the artists behind the legendary music label Blue Note Records, and “Amazing Grace,” about two Aretha Franklin performances from 1972.

“Bric JazzFest Marathon” at the Bric House (647 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 683–5600, www.bricartsmedia.org). Oct. 24–26; 7:30–11:10 pm. $35 per night ($30 in advance). Aaron Whitby performs on Oct. 24 at 9:20 pm.

“Outdoor Kickoff Concert: Bettye LaVette” at the Plaza at 300 Ashland (Lafayette Avenue between Flatbush Avenue and Ashland Place in Fort Greene). Oct. 19 at 3 pm. Free.

“Brooklyn Poetry Slam” at Bric House. Oct. 21 at 7 pm. Free.

“Blue Note Records: Beyond The Notes” at Bric House. Oct. 22 at 7:30 pm. Free.

“Amazing Grace” at the Bric House. Oct. 23 at 7:30 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams
Getting funky: The band features (from left) Keith Loftis on saxophone, bandleader Aaron Whitby on keyboards, Fred Cash, Jr. on bass guitar, Gintas Janusonis on drums, and David Phelps on guitar.
Photo by Derrick Watterson